Open defecation crisis in informal settlements
19 November 2021 | Disasters
Namibia’s informal settlements continue to buckle under the strain of open defecation, posing a risk to lives and health as the world commemorates World Toilet Day.
Namibia has one of the lowest sanitation coverage rates in southern Africa, and at least half of all informal settlement residents defecate in the open.
Foibe Selvanus, a community coordinator, said in addition to the health dangers including chronic diarrhoea and the hepatitis-e outbreak, open defecation risks exposing residents to crime.
“Imagine being raped because you needed the toilet,” she said. “A toilet is a basic human need, but when it's dark, we have issues of women being attacked and raped in Havana because they needed the toilet.”
Instead, many residents use buckets and plastic bags and dump the human waste at designated areas in river beds or the bush during the day.
In the Khomas area, an estimated 122 200 residents don’t have toilets and an estimated 61 tonnes of faeces are disposed of in open areas of informal settlements every day. In addition, household garbage is dumped in the open where refuse removal services are scarce, erratic or non-existent.
“The sanitation issues in Namibia are a national crisis of a massive magnitude and needs immediate action from different stakeholders such as NGOs, community members, municipalities and town councils,” Sheya Gotlieb, the DWN sanitation programme coordinator said.
He said sanitation remains a critical issue in urban areas because it’s not prioritised and poorly funded, and that there is a need for community behavioural change that can happen through various community initiatives and involvements at all levels.
The 2021 multidimensional poverty index report found that sanitation is the second highest indicator for poverty in Namibia, with 40.4% of Namibians lacking access to safe and functional toilets.
Gotlieb emphasised that sanitation is a basic human right, and access to a toilet offers privacy, dignity, respect and a sense of safety and pride. “Quality of life can be measured by access to good sanitation.”
Provision of communal toilets by local authorities has been a large-scale failure.
“Imagine 45 households using one toilet. And then the issue is that so many people use the toilet, especially during hours when they come from work or go to work. It's like traffic congestion, people get frustrated, because you cannot wait that long for a toilet, and they leave to use the bush, or a plastic bag,” Selvanus said.
She said most toilets are dilapidated and broken, adding to the risks of disease.
“They are not maintained, because if you bring something to people, and do not involve them, even if it’s for their own good, they look at it as government property, and think that government will come and repair, not knowing they are putting themselves at risk.”
Fillipus Shambwangala, a community leader in Havana informal settlement, said hundreds of people often rely on one communal toilet, defeating their very purpose through overuse, damage and vandalism.
Shambwangala and Selvanus are members of community-led sanitation groups, who, with the assistance of the DWN and others are tackling the challenge of sanitation in informal settlements through the community led total sanitation (CLTS) programme.
CLTS relies on a bottom up community approach to building toilets, and sensitising communities to the risks of open defecation and lack of waste management.
While more and more communities are applying the CLTS principle, and dozens of informal settlement blocks and villages across Namibia have been certified Open Defecation Free (ODF), the problem remains vast and critical.
Shambwangala said the local authorities and health ministry, among others, can play an important role in helping.
Providing demarcated land for residents for house ownership is a critical step, he said, in addition to information, materials and an ease on restrictions to building toilets.
“We are really need in need for our people to overcome these challenges. And we need our people to understand the danger of living like this. We need to educate our people.”
“The local authorities like Windhoek face pressure to deliver sanitation options to rapid expanding informal settlements. They face financial constraints because budgets towards sanitation doesn’t priorities the informal settlements as they are regarded as unplanned,” Gotlieb said.
In Windhoek challenges include upgrading sanitation infrastructures in densely populated areas, sewer overflows and extending sewer connections to difficult to reach areas.
Lack of expertise on sanitation has led to solutions being implemented that ultimately fail.
Moreover, many local authorities prioritise access to safe water over toilet provision, which has worsened and normalised open defecation in areas with no toilets.